Not Your Snails, Not Your Oysters

It was a stressy Sunday at Ye Olde Montrose Forge, primarily due to various plastered patrons throwing and/or crashing into things. (Me: “Why is everyone here drunk?” Also Me: “Because you work in a bar, idiot.”) However, one particular incident involving a couple of customers – let’s call them Carlisle (to protect his anonymity) and Spartacus (because I can’t remember his real name) — has stuck in my craw, and I want to talk about it, because it highlights how easily male privilege can be abused, even in an all-male scenario.

Carlisle comes into the store to say hi. We’re amicably chatting away at the front counter, when Spartacus enters and inserts himself into the conversation – and by “inserts,” I mean he literally positions himself between us. We keep talking, and a few minutes later, Spartacus reaches over and starts stroking Carlisle’s beard. Carlisle jerks back and politely but firmly asks him not to do that. Spartacus asks what the problem is, and Carlisle replies that he prefers not to be touched by people he doesn’t know. Spartacus glares at him and asks if he’s racist.

Now that is some Ed Sheeran-level entitlement right there: “I’m a NICE GUY, and if you don’t want me invading your personal space, there is something wrong with YOU.”  But Carlisle holds his ground and reiterates that he just doesn’t like it when people he doesn’t know try to touch him. Spartacus sputters and huffs for a bit, then pretends to see someone he knows by the main bar and sweeps out of the store in a rustle of taffeta.

Thing is, Spartacus knows he crosses boundaries, and he has traps in place designed to shame people into allowing him to continue the behavior. That is emphatically not okay – in fact, that is borderline predatory. This was not the first time I’ve seen Spartacus get grabby with a relative stranger, although it was the first time I’ve seen him get shut down, which is empowering. But it’s also disheartening, in that I see so many gay men (myself included at times) accept unwanted advances, because “Hey, we’re all guys here”; because it’s easier to grit our teeth and wait for the situation to pass instead of standing up for ourselves and risk a confrontation with someone who is going to make the whole thing our fault anyway. I mean, did you see what we were wearing? We were totally asking for it.

This is also emphatically not okay.

Long story short, my people: Don’t fucking touch without permission, and don’t feel guilty about not letting yourself be touched without permission. We may be mired in patriarchal rape culture, but we have no business taking advantage of it, or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Same Old Saturday Night

Went to see a movie show,
Found myself an empty row,
Thought the show was just alright,
Same old Saturday night.

Then I made the usual stop,
Coffee at the coffee shop,
Friendly face nowhere in sight,
Same old Saturday night.

At the end of my freshman year at Texas A&M, I spent some quality time with a guy named Mitch. We met at an affectedly avant-garde coffeehouse where both of us sometimes picked up shifts, and where, when the planets aligned just so, he would grab a mic and croon his favorite Sinatra song to much acclaim. I’ve never been quite sure if we dated or not. I mean, I was very infatuated with him, and he was admittedly attracted to me, but he had recently gone through a breakup and wasn’t over his ex. Plus, there was an age difference with which neither one of us was comfortable, and I was busy flunking out and gearing up to move to Houston, which put the kibosh on any chance of an actual relationship.

Off-kilter attempts at romance aside, he was also my first sober acquaintance. I don’t remember how it came up, but he once mentioned that he realized he had a drinking problem when every story he told began with, “So this one time, I was really drunk…” While this revelation did not immediately force me to review my personal imbibing issues, it did stay tucked in the depths of my pickled brain, bubbling to the surface whenever my own anecdotes started leading with the same disclaimer. I’m sure I drank heavily in front of him at some point or another, but he never called me out on it, and I’ve always been grateful that he set an example of recovery for me, something I could go back and reference when it was time to sober up myself.

I really thought – the papers I bought,
Would help me forget you for a while,
Believe me honey – the funnies weren’t funny,
They didn’t even make me smile.

Mitch and I communicated a few times after I left College Station but quickly fell out of touch, and while I occasionally found myself wondering what he was up to, I could never find any contact information for him. He was one of the first people I looked for when Facebook became a thing, but whatever he was doing, it was decidedly offline.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen a number of social media posts about a website called “True People Search.” Everyone seemed alarmed about the accuracy of the information it contained, which tripped a trigger and made me suddenly think of Mitch. Feeling encouraged, I hopped onto the website, typed in his full name and finally tracked him down.

He died in a car accident 17 years ago, a couple of months after I graduated. According to his obituary, he left behind a domestic partner of three years (a fairly progressive thing to include back then), so hopefully he was happy. I told a friend of mine about this, who immediately asked if he’d been drinking, thereby causing the accident. It’s a valid question. I don’t know the answer. But I knew him as a sober individual, and since the intimate details of his death are not available, that is the way I will remember him.

I’m trying not to feel guilty about not finding him sooner, especially since the resources to do so simply didn’t exist at the time. And I’m trying not to put undue energy into wishing that I could have introduced him to grown-up, sober me, or maybe even seen if there were any sparks left over from liaisons two decades old. Regardless, I will use the sparks I do have to light a candle for him, and I will thank him for being a good influence when I didn’t yet know who I was.

I really think he would’ve liked who I turned out to be.

How I wish you’d lift the phone,
Fun is fun – but not alone,
‘Til you let me hold you tight,
Same old Saturday night.

Pop Goes the Polish Remover

A friend of mine recently asked if I’d like to work a few hours a week at his fetishwear shop. I’ve still got my property management job and pick up the occasional mobile notary gig, but to be honest, I’ve always missed working in retail. Evil customers and low wages aside, I like being behind a counter, especially in mom-and-pop (or in this case, daddy) establishments. It makes me feel like I’m in a sit-com.

The shop itself has two locations: The first is a freestanding building next to Ripcord, Ye Olde Townne Leather & Levis Bar, and the other takes up a large corner inside the bar itself. I’ve been patronizing Ripcord since I was a wee little baby gay, and when I got sober, I mourned all the misadventures I’d had there. However, a little over a year into my recovery, I agreed to meet a date there and found myself surprisingly comfortable in the environment. I was neither triggered nor overcome with the urge to drink, which threw me off a little, until I realized that for as raging an alcoholic as I was, I never actually drank very much at Ripcord — I just showed up there drunk.

That epiphany, coupled with Ripcord being the Misfits‘ home bar, resulted in me spending an inordinate amount of time there, much to the withering judgment concern of a number of sober acquaintances. “If you hang out at the barbershop, you’re going to get a shave,” they chanted while placing bets on how long it would take me to slink into a meeting and collect a new desire chip. But despite their hopes the odds, I’ve done remarkably well at the Rip. Everyone from the owner to the barback knows I’m sober, and it’s become an unexpected safe space for me, where I can sip club soda and get merrily groped by strangers without incident.

With all that in mind, I agreed to come aboard as a sales clerk, although I changed my work status on Facebook to read, “Notary Public at the Montrose Forge,” because I think I’m hilarious. And of course, within 30 minutes of me clocking in for my first shift, one of the Misfits texted me all, “Where are you?! I need something notarized yesterday,” so I took that as a favorable career omen and added a notary rate chart and that repellent sign to the shop’s décor, which amused the owner to no end. Especially after I told him he could charge $30 to have me schlep in from across town and notarize shit for walk-in clients.

The Forge
Best. Office. Ever.

Caught up as I was in the joy of getting back into retail and becoming the official notary for drunk leatherdudes everywhere, I managed to overlook one little glitch in the system: The store sells what are commonly referred to as “solvents,” or “polish removers,” or, back in the heyday of adult arcades, “video head cleaners.” And I say “commonly referred to,” because it is illegal in the great state of Texas to sell amyl nitrate or any of its derivatives for recreational purposes.

In other words, we don’t carry poppers. Poppers are bad. We would never promote nor encourage the purchase or use of poppers.

Which is good, because Drunk Me was a right proper fool for poppers.

For my 2.5 straight readers, poppers are an inhalant, which cause a brief but intense sense of euphoria. Along with the enjoyable head rush, poppers also lower blood pressure and relax muscles, which means they allow you to fit pretty much anything in your butt, hence their popularity in the gay community. I personally have not used poppers for any reason since before I quit drinking, but their acrid odor brings back fond semi-memories of drunken shenanigans, and in early sobriety, I found myself craving them more than cheap whiskey. I held firm and eventually lost all attraction to them, but I’ve also just put myself in a situation where I spend 12 hours a week with a display case of NOT POPPERS/POLISH REMOVERS a foot from my face. And that doesn’t strike me as 100% brilliant.

The original purpose of this blog was to document my recovery from alcoholism, but as I went from hiding in the rooms of 12-step meetings to functioning successfully in the Real World, writing about recovery seemed less and less relevant. Now, though, I’m starting to see The Second Coming of Bacchus as a tool for accountability. As I once told a roomful of recovering alcoholics who were not at all thrilled with my life choices (see barbershop above), I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I’m doing, so long as they know I’m doing it. It’s when I start keeping secrets that I get myself into trouble.

So. No secrets. I’m coming up on five years sober, and I’m working in a bar, selling video head cleaner to horny men who have never owned VCRs. And I am okay.

Thank you guys in advance for helping me stay that way.

Bros Before Mos

A frantic text message to my buddy Angelo:

Hey, I know you’re at work, but this guy I used to date is now engaged to someone he’s known for a month, and Alan’s at Southern Decadence, and Douglas isn’t speaking to me this week, and I literally might die if I don’t laugh about this with somebody.

He called moments later and laughed his ass off along with me, because he’s a brother and a true friend. And then I may or may not have agreed to fly to Chicago with him next May and act as his publicist/handler while he competes for the title of International Mr. Leather. Like you do.

This is… not exactly where I expected sobriety to take me. But I’m cool with it overall.

But Also Because I Respect Channing Tatum as an Artist

[A conversation between myself and my buddy Damien.]

Me: “Do you have plans tonight?”

Damien: “I do not. You?”

Me: “Nope. Want to know what I really want to do?”

Damien: “Sure.”

Me: “I want to go see Magic Mike XXL and take a selfie in front of the movie poster, but with a picture of Angelo‘s face taped onto Joe Manganiello’s body.”

Damien: “Sounds like someone has a thing for Angelo.”

Me: “I’ve got a thing for Angelo right here.”

Damien: “…”

Me: “Kidding. I kid. Seriously, though, I want to tag us in a status update on Facebook and be all, ‘Damien said Angelo wouldn’t want to come with us, but I knew he’d show up eventually.’ ISN’T THAT HILARIOUS?!”

Damien: “Yeah… I’m just going to take you to that Amy Winehouse documentary instead.”

Me: “Fair enough, yo. Fair enough.”

Misfitting In

There’s a leather-and-Levis organization in town called the Misfits, and I’ve always harbored a semi-secret crush on the group as a whole. If the Houston-area gay community were a high school (and sometimes I could swear…), the Misfits would be the varsity football team — they even have stylish leather vests with their logo on the backs in lieu of letterman jackets, and frankly, I think I would look adorable in one.

The Misfits themselves apparently agree: Some of the members have been talking me up to the quarterback president, who in turn has been reaching out and encouraging me to pledge. Officially, I am flattered by their interest, and I’ve promised to give the matter serious thought. Behind the scenes, however, I’m acting like a teenage girl who just received a care package from Taylor Swift.

Alas, not everyone in my immediate circle is as thrilled by the Misfits’ inclusivity as I am. Cross, who’s normally very supportive of whatever weird shit I get into, was like, “Huh. Well, they do have an event coming up, so they’re definitely going to need some warm bodies to help run the show.” Awesome. But I will deal with him later, since the foil currently demanding my attention is that guy from the sober leather club who went all After-school Special on my panic disorder, and who is the opposite of amused with my Misfit potential.

 “This is NOT putting your recovery first,” he yelled, when I inexplicably told him the Misfits were trying to recruit me. “You’re going to hang around in bars with them and get triggered, and then what?”

I tried pointing out that several of the Misfits don’t drink (including my buddy Doc, who, back in the day, took it upon himself to babysit me during benders, and who also kept a running list of everyone I inadvertently insulted and/or offended, so that I could offer formal apologies the morning after). Additionally, I reminded him that I still hadn’t decided if I even wanted to join, but he wasn’t having it.

“You’re really putting yourself in a dangerous situation,” he continued. “And have you even considered how this will affect your anxiety?”

Ah, yes, I thought. My anxiety. Mustn’t forget how deeply concerned he is about that.

And I called the Misfits president to announce my intent to pledge.

I’m going to look so fucking cute in my vest, you guys.

PS: I shared this story with Simon, which led to the following conversation.

Me: “There are people in my life who are never going to be who I want them to be. But if I’m not comfortable with who they really are, I’ve got to wonder why I feel the need to have them in my life at all.”

Simon: “I have seriously been waiting the entire six months we’ve been working together for you to realize this.”

Me: “Dude… we’ve been working together for over a year. We had an anniversary in April.”

Simon: “Oh, I don’t keep track of dates. What’s important is the present, the here and now.”

Me: “Wow. Way to get out of buying me jewelry.”

Simon: “Honey, it’s going to be at least 20 years before you’ll get jewelry out of me.”

Me: “Then on my 20th recovery birthday, I expect a doorknob on my finger.”

Simon: “I’ll be happy to glue an actual doorknob onto a ring for you.”

Me: “You know I would totally wear it if you did that, right?”

Simon: “Just tell everyone I went to Jared.”